Saturday, April 05, 2008

Ground Hog Day

excerpted from "Knowing More and More About Less and Less"

by Lawrence Alexander on HuffPo

The country is now in a financial crisis that, in terms of the number of housing foreclosures, has not been seen since the Great Depression. Do a search on the internet for mortgage foreclosures and what do you get? The first ten of an estimated one million results, including the helpful information that the Minnehaha County sheriff holds mortgage foreclosure sales every Wednesday at eleven a.m. Narrow the search to government response and the list falls to a more manageable, but still impossible, 187,000. But you already knew that mortgage foreclosures were a major problem during the Depression, and you wonder what government did about it then. You type in 'New Deal' after 'government response,' and the number goes down to a mere 105,000 sources you might want to consider.

If we did not have to find our way through this mind-numbing thicket, if we could still ask someone like that student clerk at Borders where we ought to start, we could actually learn something that might bring some clarity to the present confusion and help us decide what to do. In 1932, according to the author of The Coming of the New Deal, more than a quarter millions families lost their homes through mortgage foreclosures; this at a time when the population of the United States was not much more than a third of what it is today. The first response of government, Herbert Hoover's Home Loan Bank Act of 1932, like Republican proposals to meet the current crisis, offered financial incentives to lenders. This did nothing to cure the problem. When Franklin Roosevelt defeated Hoover in the November election, the rate of foreclosures had risen to almost a thousand a day.

What did Roosevelt do? In his famous first hundred days, he created a new agency, the Home Owners Loan Corporation, which bought mortgages from the lenders who could no longer carry them, financed payment for taxes and repairs, and "rewrote the mortgages to provide for easy repayment over a long term and at relatively low interest rates." One out of every five mortgaged homes in America benefited from this program. The real estate market was saved from collapse and banks, instead of failing, once again began to lend money to people who wanted to have a home of their own.

Get the rest after the click ...

My comment:

Of course, Roosevelt was a Socialist. We know that's the case because we've been told he was a Socialist. We know Socialism is bad. We know that's true because we've been told Socialism is bad. We're Conservatives. We believe everything we're told. We have very good ideological reasons for ignoring, vilifying and condemning pragmatic solutions to problems of all kind ... even if the evidence points to those solutions having effectively solved the problems in the past. In our hearts, we KNOW we're Right!

Friday, April 04, 2008

How's that guy you voted for so enthusiastically doing?

HNN Poll: 61% of Historians Rate the Bush Presidency Worst

By Robert S. McElvaine

“As far as history goes and all of these quotes about people trying to guess what the history of the Bush administration is going to be, you know, I take great comfort in knowing that they don’t know what they are talking about, because history takes a long time for us to reach.” — George W. Bush, Fox News Sunday, Feb10, 2008

A Pew Research Center poll released last week found that the share of the American public that approves of President George W. Bush has dropped to a new low of 28 percent.

An unscientific poll of professional historians completed the same week produced results far worse for a president clinging to the hope that history will someday take a kinder view of his presidency than does contemporary public opinion.

In an informal survey of 109 professional historians conducted over a three-week period through the History News Network, 98.2 percent assessed the presidency of Mr. Bush to be a failure while 1.8 percent classified it as a success.

More after the click ... and see how historians rank the Bush Presidency among all the others!

My comment:

How's YOUR credibility feeling? You sure can pick 'em!

But then, what'd'ya expect? Historians! They're edjamakated and that means they're LIBERAL ... so wha'd'they know?

Taking your imagination too seriously

Cult leader Pyotr Kuznetsov tries suicide after realising he was wrong about doomsday

Tony Halpin in Moscow

The leader of a Russian doomsday sect has attempted to kill himself as his followers continue to emerge from a cave where they have been waiting for the end of the world.

Pyotr Kuznetsov was in hospital yesterday after he was discovered hitting himself over the head with a log. Members of his religious group have been hiding in a cave since November, believing that the world would end in May.

Officials said that he may have attempted suicide after realising his prediction had been wrong. Mr Kuznetsov has been declared to be suffering from schizophrenia and held in a psychiatric hospital for treatment. He was brought back to the remote village of Nikolskoye, 435 miles southeast of Moscow, to help the authorities to persuade his followers to leave the cave amid fears that it was collapsing. Mr Kuznetsov was found with a head wound in a barn at his home after going out for firewood.

“It was an attempted suicide. Pyotr put his head on a tree stump and started hitting his head with a log. He is in hospital with a head wound,” said Oleg Melnichenko, deputy goveror of the Penza region. Doctors described his condition as stable after an emergency operation. The local prosecutor Grigori Zhitenev said that Mr Kuznetsov’s motives included “that the end of the world has not come”.

More after the click ...

My comment:

If he believed the world was going to end in MAY, isn't it a little premature to be beating himself over the head about it in APRIL? Hell, he could be right!

Does it take a genius to state the obvious?

from Blake Fleetwood - HuffPo

Of George Bush, Soros says, "Unfortunately this administration shows no understanding of the predicament in which it finds itself."

If Soros is right and foreigners lose confidence in the U.S. economy, they will want their money back, the dollar will fall, and foreign investments will tumble. To an amazing extent, the U.S. economy has relied "on the kindness of strangers" to fuel its domestic and international investments and the recent real estate boom.

The consequences for our American Empire may be disastrous and swift, if the kindness and confidence of global investors is shaken. Will America succumb to the same imperial overstretch as the Roman, Dutch, Spanish, Soviet, and British? Hubris does not allow us to see much in the future. Every empire thinks that it is different, but....?

More after the click ...

My comment:

In Washington they say of politics "if you want a friend around here, get a dog." I think that's true in world economics, too. We don't have any friends when there's money involved. As soon as the global investors, countries who buy the debt of other countries, sense there's no longer an advantage to buying additional American debt, that source of cash will dry up as quickly as Bear Sterns fell - virtually over the course of a weekend. Up to that point, everything will look hopeful ... then suddenly, someone, somewhere will make a decision and when that decision is made by one of the big holders of American debt, like China, it will create a fiscal tsunami that will travel around the world at the speed of a telephone call as all the other holders of American debt find out.

Not only will that source of cash through the sale of debt dry up - leaving us unable to sell further debt - the existing debt that's already out there will will be up for sale on the world market at discounted prices because the last one holding is is going to be screwed.

Well, how about we buy our debt back? We arranged to borrow the money (incur the debt) when the dollar was strong. Now the dollar is weak thanks to conservative fiscal responsibility over the last seven and a half years. In 2000, lets say a dollar was worth ... well, a dollar. If we're willing to accept that, then based using Normal GDP* as a standard, the dollar is currently worth $0.71. What it means is if you wanted to buy back our debt you'd have to pay about $1.30 for every $1.00 out there. You can't blame that decline on Bill. You can, however, make a case for blaming 15 years worth of self-proclaimed conservatives controlling Congress (you know, purse strings and all?) coupled with the last seven and a half years of conservatives controlling no only Congress, but also the White House and the Supreme Court. Funny coincidence - that the decline of the value of those dollars in your pocket can be plotted against the time fiscally responsible conservatives have held the power and - DAMN! - if it doesn't fit! If it feels like you have a hole in your pocket and you're working harder and harder just to keep your nostrils above the water line ... guess who's to blame?

The so called fiscally responsible conservatives love to frame the issue in terms of "tax and spend liberals" - then they cut taxes and borrow us into the biggest hole since the Dust Bowl Depression of the 1930s! Heaven forbid that they frame the opposing opinion for what it is - "pay as you go!" But, by golly, they saved us from the evils of socialism! You know, that socialism they practice in Europe? That socialism that provides universal health care for its citizens, and free educations, and decent working conditions with all those nasty vacations. They made sure that pure and wonderful, unregulated, unrestricted capitalism ran unchecked. Well, that's going to be small consolation to you when you loose your job and then your condo or house - when the economic ship you've been sailing in sinks as you watch that economic ship you were told could never float goes sailing merrily by.

But aren't those capitalists in the same boat? Not on your life! They've gone multi national. They've moved their headquarters off shore so they don't have to pay taxes here and they've shipped your job some place else where they can get it done cheaper. They talked you into taking two mortgages to leverage your way into a MacMansion that you couldn't really afford on the premise that "things that go up NEVER come down" and you believed them. Well, things that go up do come down! Now you owe more on your house than you can sell it for, your home is worth 20-30% less than it was a year ago and they're telling you its all your fault because you borrowed more than you could afford while they look to those wonderful fiscal conservatives who control Congress to cover their shell game as it unravels ... with the dollars YOU paid in taxes. Well, THAT sound fair!

After all, you know how it goes ... "People! If you can't make a profit on 'em ... screw 'em!" (Kind of a "heads I win, tails you loose" proposition when you come right down to it.)

Aren't you glad that you voted for them ... and so enthusiastically, too!

* GDP expressed in current market prices, which is GDP not corrected for inflation. This may also be called "money GDP", "current-price GDP" or "GDP at current prices". Nominal GDP over time incorporates both real-output change and price change (inflation).

Tracking our moral bankrupcy

There Were Orders to Follow

from The New York Times

You can often tell if someone understands how wrong their actions are by the lengths to which they go to rationalize them. It took 81 pages of twisted legal reasoning to justify President Bush’s decision to ignore federal law and international treaties and authorize the abuse and torture of prisoners.

Eighty-one spine-crawling pages in a memo that might have been unearthed from the dusty archives of some authoritarian regime and has no place in the annals of the United States. It is must reading for anyone who still doubts whether the abuse of prisoners were rogue acts rather than calculated policy.

The March 14, 2003, memo was written by John C. Yoo, then a Pentagon lawyer. He earlier helped draft a memo that redefined torture to justify repugnant, clearly illegal acts against Al Qaeda and Taliban prisoners.

The purpose of the March 14 memo was equally insidious: to make sure that the policy makers who authorized those acts, or the subordinates who carried out the orders, were not convicted of any crime. The list of laws that Mr. Yoo’s memo sought to circumvent is long: federal laws against assault, maiming, interstate stalking, war crimes and torture; international laws against torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment; and the Geneva Conventions.

More after the click ...

My comment:

After the Second World War, the plaint of former Nazi military officers all the way to the top was "Ve ver only following ohdahs!" It didn't work form them then ... why should it work now?

100 Years of Peaceful Occupation in Iraq

from Crooks and Liars

So, for those keeping score at home, McCain 1) endorsed a multi-decade presence in Iraq; 2) denounced a multi-decade presence in Iraq; 3) re-embraced his first point; and 4) blasted those who agreed with his second point as being incompetent.

At the risk of sounding impolite, this guy is starting to make Bush look like he’s engaged and knowledgeable.

Get it all after the click ...

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Thought for the day

"You wake me up early in the morning to tell me I am right? Please wait until I am wrong."

-- Johann von Neumann

Few Scientists Warm to Skeptics Conference

reposted from Full Frontal Scruteny

The Heartland Institute's "2008 International Conference on Climate Change" in New York was "a sort of global warming doppelganger conference, where everything was reversed," reports Juliet Eilperin. At the event, skeptics unveiled their response to the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change (NIPCC) report, edited by corporate-funded skeptic Fred Singer, argued that "recent climate change stems from natural causes." Eilperin notes that "while the IPCC enlisted several hundred scientists from more than 100 countries to work over five years to produce its series of reports, the NIPCC document is the work of 23 authors from 15 nations, some of them not scientists." The New York Times reports that while the Heartland conference "was largely framed around science ... when an organizer made an announcement asking all of the scientists in the large hall to move to the front for a group picture, 19 men did so." The conference invitation identified its goal as "to generate international media attention to the fact that many scientists believe forecasts of rapid warming and catastrophic events are not supported by sound science." The Heartland Institute offered "$1,000 to those willing to give a talk," and "a free weekend at the Marriott Marquis in Manhattan, including travel costs, to all elected officials wanting to attend," according to the RealClimate blog.

Passing the "Commander in Chief Threshold" Test

Could YOU be President?

Take the test here!

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

"Iraq is costing each household about $100 a month."

Barack Obama on Thursday, March 20th, 2008 in a speech in Charleston, W.Va.

So, I went to to find out if that was true. Here's what I found out:

Yes, families pay more for Iraq war than cable. It's True.

The cost of the Iraq war has often been expressed in billions or trillions, numbers so big and abstract they remind us of Carl Sagan's description of the universe (“billions and billions of stars…”).

The candidates have cited alternative uses for the war money, saying it would have been better spent on health coverage for the uninsured (Sen. Hillary Clinton) or on more school teachers (Sen. Barack Obama).

In a speech on March 20, 2008, Obama took a different approach and emphasized the personal cost of the war.

“When Iraq is costing each household about $100 a month, you’re paying a price for this war,” he said in the speech in Charleston, W.Va.

At $100 per month, the war cost to each U.S. household would be more than cable TV (average bill: $58), but less than a car payment (average bill: $400-500).

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Words of Wisdom

"God watches over us, and kills us if we get boring."

-unattributed. Pius the XII maybe?

(Tip of the hat to Lee for passing that one along.)

Who was it that turned the Battle of Ideas into a Knife Fight?

or watch the video here ...

In related stories

Vatican: Islam surpasses Roman Catholicism as world's largest religion

Associated Press

VATICAN CITY - Islam has surpassed Roman Catholicism as the world's largest religion, the Vatican newspaper said Sunday.

"For the first time in history, we are no longer at the top: Muslims have overtaken us," Monsignor Vittorio Formenti said in an interview with the Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano.

Formenti compiles the Vatican's yearbook.

He said that Catholics accounted for 17.4 per cent of the world population - a stable percentage - while Muslims were at 19.2 per cent.

More after the click ...

and then there's ...

Vote on freedom of expression marks the end of Universal Human Rights

by International Humanist and Ethical Union

For the past eleven years the organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC), representing the 57 Islamic States, has been tightening its grip on the throat of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Yesterday, 28 March 2008, they finally killed it.

With the support of their allies including China, Russia and Cuba (none well-known for their defence of human rights) the Islamic States succeeded in forcing through an amendment to a resolution on Freedom of Expression that has turned the entire concept on its head. The UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression will now be required to report on the “abuse” of this most cherished freedom by anyone who, for example, dares speak out against Sharia laws that require women to be stoned to death for adultery or young men to be hanged for being gay, or against the marriage of girls as young as nine, as in Iran.

Former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan saw the writing on the wall three years ago when he spoke of the old Commission on Human Rights having “become too selective and too political in its work”. Piecemeal reform would not be enough. The old system needed to be swept away and replaced by something better. The Human Rights Council was supposed to be that new start, a Council whose members genuinely supported, and were prepared to defend, the principles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

The rest after the click ...

Monday, March 31, 2008

The Truth Be Known ...

by Joseph A. Palermo

The corkscrew descent made everybody's stomachs churn as the C-130 transport plane seemed to fall from the sky. The flak and hot metal pounding the wings and fuselage sounded like popcorn popping and quickly reached an ear-splitting crescendo. Two of the plane's engines were hit and coughed their final sighs before shutting down. A minute later, a powerful jolt let everybody know they had finally hit the tarmac and a brief feeling of relief swept the occupants. Although weapons and gear were thrown around, the aircraft was apparently in tact and everybody was still alive. Hillary Clinton began barking out orders: "Okay, I want to secure this LZ in under 2 minutes, Comprendo?" she shouted in a firm and even tone. "Sinbad -- grab one of those RPGs and take point about 20 yards north-northeast! Chelsea -- take that .50 cal about 20 yards to the northwest and start laying down cover fire! I'll hold up the southern flank." Hillary then turned to General Nash who was still strapped in his chair: "You better not leave our asses hanging out there General! I want cover fire! Don't fuck this up or I'll have your ass dipped in marmalade!" The droning of the sputtering engines and intense gunfire almost drowned out Hillary's commands. "I don't want any zips in the wire General!" she screamed. And then she turned to the other terrified soldiers in the plane and said: "Just do your fucking jobs people and everybody's gonna make it outta here!"

Get the rest of the true story after the click ...

What Engineers Do in Their Spare Time

Check it out.

The contrast between Conservatives and Progressives

from The Week on ABC

George Will (Conservative): The Republicans have now put themselves in a bind because people now say look if you have Wall Street socialism, whereby you save Bear Sterns, or at least save JP Morgan to buy Bear Sterns, and you are thereby socializing the losses and keeping the profits private, why not help everybody. Soon we’ll hear from everyone in the country who has a student loan. This is,it’s a burden, help me.

Paul Krugman (Progressive): When I listened to McCain give that speech I immediately thought of Herbert Hoover’s Treasury Secretary. Liquidate farmers, liquidate workers, liquidate real estate, purge the rottenness from the system. You can’t do this. This is a major financial crisis. You’ve got to do something and that does include helping homeowners who were sucked in. You know it would be a little different if Alan Greenspan hadn’t said you should all take out adjustable rate mortgages. It would be a little different if the administration hadn’t said housing prices are going up. If they hadn’t said there is no bubble. So this is a situation where a lot of people have been hurt. It’s a natural disaster in effect. It’s like Katrina, and to say oh let people suffer is like saying let those people who made the mistake of staying in New Orleans suffer.

My comment:

George, the welfare check already went out to Bear Sterns. But then, what the hell, if you can't make a profit on the people, fuck 'em, right? The only reason people exist is so that businesses can make profits!

War always brings unintended consequences

The Opium Brides of Afghanistan

In the country's poppy-growing provinces, farmers are being forced to sell their daughters to pay loans.


Khalida's father says she's 9—or maybe 10. As much as Sayed Shah loves his 10 children, the functionally illiterate Afghan farmer can't keep track of all their birth dates. Khalida huddles at his side, trying to hide beneath her chador and headscarf. They both know the family can't keep her much longer. Khalida's father has spent much of his life raising opium, as men like him have been doing for decades in the stony hillsides of eastern Afghanistan and on the dusty southern plains. It's the only reliable cash crop most of those farmers ever had. Even so, Shah and his family barely got by: traffickers may prosper, but poor farmers like him only subsist. Now he's losing far more than money. "I never imagined I'd have to pay for growing opium by giving up my daughter," says Shah.

The family's heartbreak began when Shah borrowed $2,000 from a local trafficker, promising to repay the loan with 24 kilos of opium at harvest time. Late last spring, just before harvest, a government crop-eradication team appeared at the family's little plot of land in Laghman province and destroyed Shah's entire two and a half acres of poppies. Unable to meet his debt, Shah fled with his family to Jalalabad, the capital of neighboring Nangarhar province. The trafficker found them anyway and demanded his opium. So Shah took his case before a tribal council in Laghman and begged for leniency. Instead, the elders unanimously ruled that Shah would have to reimburse the trafficker by giving Khalida to him in marriage. Now the family can only wait for the 45-year-old drugrunner to come back for his prize. Khalida wanted to be a teacher someday, but that has become impossible. "It's my fate," the child says.

Afghans disparagingly call them "loan brides" — daughters given in marriage by fathers who have no other way out of debt. The practice began with the dowry a bridegroom's family traditionally pays to the bride's father in tribal Pashtun society. These days the amount ranges from $3,000 or so in poorer places like Laghman and Nangarhar to $8,000 or more in Helmand, Afghanistan's No. 1 opium-growing province. For a desperate farmer, that bride price can be salvation—but at a cruel cost. Among the Pashtun, debt marriage puts a lasting stain on the honor of the bride and her family. It brings shame on the country, too. President Hamid Karzai recently told the nation: "I call on the people [not to] give their daughters for money; they shouldn't give them to old men, and they shouldn't give them in forced marriages."

More after the click ...

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Note in a Bottle - to someone out in the world

It is not all done by one person ... (whatever "it" is). Some people lead protest marches, others write books (read Naomi Klein's "The Shock Doctrine"), others work for candidates that they can believe in and they vote. Some folks write songs filled with meaning, performing them for who ever will listen.

For me, I rant in a blog. People from all over the world stop by my soapbox and read what I write ... there's a little button at the bottom of the page. Clicking it takes you to a map outlining where the most recent 100 viewers come from. I correspond with a number of friends, a number of whom disagree with me most of the time. I correspond with a number of people I've never met, most of whom agree with me most of the time. I have an effect on the world. Some effect it far more .... but, in consolation, there are others who effect it not so much.

When I was young and in my 20s I protested with C.O.R.E, carrying signs and chaining myself to fences and gates to protest the state of racial discrimination and segregation at the time. The world has changed since then ... some things for good, some things not. But things have changed. I added my drop of water to the ocean's tide and things changed. Some 45 years later a black man is running for President and he might actually make it! Not because he's black; not because he's a man but because he's a(n) (relatively) honest HUMAN BEING who can coherently communicate in full English sentences many of the feelings and beliefs shared by honest, sincere, caring and passionate human beings across our country and the world.

A note in a bottle. We are not alone - we hope.

G. W. Bush Presidential Library

click image for larger version ...